There are few responsibilities that are more basic and fundamental to a thriving society than to ensure for the care and well-being of our children.
And it is one in which we in New Mexico are failing.
For 24 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has put out an annual report measuring overall child well-being based on 16 indicators. New Mexico has never fared well in the report, but the 48th-place and 49th-place rankings we've grown accustomed to have not been enough to shake our leaders from their lethargy.
Perhaps this year's ranking, in which New Mexico places dead last in the nation, will.
The report looks at four basic areas -- economic well-being, education, health and family and community. And, while the focus is on children, the problems leading to our last-place ranking go much deeper.
For example, in all four indicators under the category Economic Well-Being, the statistics for this year were wose than for past years. More children are living in poverty, more have parents who lack secure employment, more live with a high housing-cost burden and more teens are not in school or working.
Obviously, the only way to improve those statistics is to provide better employment opportunities for the children's parents.
The other category where the statistics for our state are heading in the wrong direction is "Family and Community." The study found more children living in single-parent homes, more in families in which the head of the household lacks a high school diploma and more living in high-poverty areas. The good news in this category was a reduction in teen births.
The study showed areas of improvement in education and health, but not significant enough to keep pace with other states.
We don't doubt the desire of our elected leaders to address these problems. We know from her long time as district attorney here, and her shorter time as governor, that child welfare has always been a priority for Gov. Martinez.
But too often recently, efforts to make a difference have gotten bogged down in political, ideological struggles over issues like third-grade retention and the fitness to serve of our secretary of education.
Winning the political fight seems to take priority over the goal we all share of lifting our children up and giving them a better opportunity to succeed.
These rankings need to be a wake-up call. If we are unable to care for our children today, what kind of future can we expect?
Las Cruces Sun News, July 2